First off, the Charlie Hebdo drawings are rather crude and not at all to my taste.
Secondly, to call this an attack upon free speech when we’re decades into Political Correctness in the West is an absurdity.
Third, One might like to think that such a brazen crime as this will wake people up, but it won’t: we’ll have our candle light vigils and our hand wringing…and maybe someone will lob a few missiles in the general direction of Islamists, somewhere; but we won’t actually face up to the facts. To do so would call forth a whole series of very inconvenient things which would distract politicians from grafting, corporations from squeezing profits and average folks from watching mindless television programs.
One thing that caught my eye over the course of the day was the furious reaction – mostly on the right, as far as I can tell – to the head of the Catholic League’s statement on the matter. To quote a bit:
…While some Muslims today object to any depiction of the Prophet, others do not. Moreover, visual representations of him are not proscribed by the Koran. What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them…
That is bound to make people mad. Partially because it appears to excuse the killers (though it doesn’t actually do that, if you read the whole thing), partially because lots of people are dead and we’re supposed to be agog at the heroism of Charlie Hebdo from now on.
Charlie Hebdo did create some rather vulgar depictions of a lot of things – including Catholic things. Of course, vulgar depictions of Christians of any sort are common in popular media. Its a sort of go-to thing for anyone wanting to (safely) make a name for themselves as transgressive. Sure, when you insult a Christian there might be a Christian or two who complains, but its not like Christians are going to kill you over it. To give a bit of credit to Charlie Hebdo, the insults were directed a lot of people, including Muslims – in a world where most people walk on eggshells around Muslim issues, that says something. But, it also doesn’t excuse crude insults.
Just to make myself clear: a person is not properly exercising his or her right to free speech when they are hurling an insult. To be sure, such things happen – and no one possessed of their wits will ever try to prevent someone from saying something because it might be insulting. But, here’s the thing: our entire Western world does precisely that. And, yes, that does make us rather witless. We’re making Charlie Hebdo into a hero for being ecumenically insulting but we’ll drive out of corporate America a person who once donated to a pro-traditional marriage cause. Yeah, that makes sense. People at Charlie Hebdo abuse the privilege of free speech and it is accounted heroic – someone properly exercises their right to free speech and he’s socially unacceptable. Am I the only one who sees a problem here?
My guess is that my more libertarian friends would say that both Charlie Hebdo and the corporate boss should have been left alone. And they would be right for saying that. Still, one man was fired for quietly expressing his opinion, the other were people gainfully employed for loudly shouting insults.
The drawings of Charlie Hebdo remind me of nothing so much as a the crude pictures in the anti-Semitic Der Sturmer; they shouldn’t have been printed in any decent publication in the world. If you have something to say against, then it is your bound duty to say it in a manner which provides information in a non-insulting manner. Like most social duties, this cannot be enforced; as per usual, being decent is something which pretty much has to be done voluntarily. If someone wants to wallow in the gutter, there’s not much anyone can do about it. But such people aren’t being brave or heroic – they’re just being jerks. Additionally, if something can’t be said politely then it is probably at least partially incorrect on factual grounds.
At the end of the day, Charlie Hebdo should have found different themes to draw upon. They could well have used art to provoke discussion – including discussion about the very serious problems the world confronts in Islamic radicalism. In a very small way, the world would be a better place had things gone like that. Of course, the Hebdo massacre could well have been done by Islamists for even carefully reasoned and polite criticism of Islam – the Islamist enemy is like that. But the old saw is that it costs nothing to be polite – and it can cost a lot to be insulting. Better, on the whole, to be polite.
Freedom is the ability to freely choose to do the right thing, or it is nothing. We know that shooting up a news office is not the right thing and thus anyone who uses his God-given right of choice to do such a thing has done wrong. I am hopeful that most people will also hold that insulting people is to freely choose to do the wrong thing – not nearly as wrong as killing, of course, but still wrong. Anyone out there want to lay odds on who will win in a fight between those who want to insult and those who want to kill those who insult?
The fight, I think, would have a different outcome if the Islamists were confronted with people who firmly but politely stated their views and demonstrated their willingness to kill or die for them.
(Ed Note: Updated to make it clear that Charlie Hebdo is a magazine, not a person. My excuse is that it was late at night and the original concept of this was to write specifically about Stéphane Charbonnier, but I felt that was to get too personal into it and re-worked the whole article…but forgetting that I was talking about a magazine, not a person. Sorry for being a bonehead. Not the first time it happened, won’t be the last!)